Collier’s recently published Office Journal of Brigham Young includes, in appendices, several meeting transcripts that relate to the tension over Orson Pratt in the governing quorums of the Church. In the introduction to these appendices, Collier claims that a certain researcher (Gary Bergera) misused and poorly transcribed one of these manuscripts and “went so far as to deliberately alter documents in order to cast aspersion upon President Young.” Count this as reason #132 that the Church Archives should not restrict material like this.
On April 4, 1860 the quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency met to discuss the future of Orson Pratt. Pratt did not buy into a lot of Brigham’s teachings and had a speculative proclivity himself. Pratt was unwilling to accept something he simply didn’t believe. Still the council worked together to determine a way in which future public conflict would be prevented, Pratt would retain his apostleship and past indiscretion would not be accepted as doctrine.
The best and most complete account of this meeting is very difficult to read, and those that have transcribed it make a special note of the fact. In 1980 Bergera published “The Orson Pratt–Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict Within the Quorums, 1853-1868” in Dialogue (no. 2). Below are the accounts of a critical excerpt from this paper and the corresponding Colliers transcription (Appendix B):
Bergera, pg. 26
Turning to face the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Orson Hyde, Young demanded, “I want a confession that I can send to the whole of the people that will cover the church and preserve bro. Orson a whole Apostle, before the whole church, then we want bro Orson that can save him I want such a thing published all over the world….Thus saith the Lord, ‘[G]o do that.’ Now you understand what I want,…It’s not the matter Bro. Orson has at heart it’s the manner…Bro. Orson Pratt should say I have no judgement upon the matter, or should have had none. Brother O. Pratt what do you think about it?”
Collier, pg. 424-425 (1)
I know his integrity [-] I love him, [-] I mean to hang on to him, [-] I want a confession that I can send to the whole of the people that will cover all this ground & preserve bro. Orson a whole Apostle, before the whole church, then we want bro Orson [to make a confession] that can save him.
I want such a thing published all over the world, [-] when he has written on baptism & the first prin[ciples his doctrine is sound,] but when [he has] written on Gods &c. [his writings are a] chimera of the brain [-] [it is vain] philosophy – dont want [anything] but Thus saith the Lord God [-] do that [and] they don’t [have to] ask any hypothesis, [-] [they] dont have to stop and phylosphize[.] Now you understand what I want, & if Bro. Orson thinks & take the 12 [to assist him], & fix the items [which have been mentioned here tonight] – then get the thing right & read it to the people & say that lest I could not speak it I have written it.
John Taylor, finds it easier to get out of the path than to get into it. I heard Orson & thought [that] some items he meant right – It is important for the 12 to teach correct doctrine & it is for Prest. Y. to see that we get it right
[three blank lines]
B.Y. It’s not the matter Bro. Orson has at heart[,] its the manner.
O.H. Where a full acknowledgement of authority exists itr (sic) ought __ ______ but the truth ought to have the credit. I said to a man, what would you give to know the truth, — [he said:] [“]I would not yield to the truth.[“] I told him the truth trammeled no good man – I feel as though the truth would make us free.
B.Y. [When there is a ] difference in opinion & judgment, their judgment should be left at rest until the truth forms that judgment – Any judgment not framed right must be [re]framed by the prin[ciples] of eternal truth. Bro. O Pratt, should say[,] I have no judgment upon the matter, or should have had none. Brother O. Pratt what do you think about it.
If the Collier account is to be trusted, then it is obvious that the Bergera redaction is highly flawed and is a mischaracterization of events. Throughout the Bergera account, dramatic details are added that I cannot account for in the transcript of the meeting (such as “Turning to face the President of the Quorum,” or previously, “Young gestured towards Pratt.”
It is equally evident that in some instances Collier’s editorial clarification are over-reaching. E.g, “when he has written on baptism & the first prin[ciples his doctrine is sound].” Collier’s interjection actually makes a lot of sense in context, but that could be debated.
This was not Bergera’s final word, however. Collier’s criticisms are actually affirmed in this passage by Bergera himself. 22 years after the publication of the Dialogue article, he published Conflict in the Quorum [Signature Books]. While Bergera retains his dramatic interpretation (even enhancing it), his larger treatment lines up much better with Collier’s transcription, though falls into the same editorial challenges:
Facing quorum president Orson Hyde, Young stressed, “I know his [Pratt’s] integrity[.] I love him, [and] I mean to hang on to him[.] I want a confession that I can send to the whole of the people that will cover all the church & preserve bro Orson a whole Apostle, before the whole church, then we want bro Orson[,] that can save him.
“I want such a thing published all over the world,” Young ordered. “When he has written on baptism & the first prin[ciples , he teaches true doctrine,] but when [he has] written on God &c [it is a] chimera of the brain[, a] philosopher[‘s doctrine, and we] don’t want that. Thus saith the Lord[.] [G]o do that[, and] they don’t have to ask [if] any [teaching is a] hypothesis [and he] dont have to stop philosophizing.
“Now you understand what I want,” Young insisted. “[I]f Bro Orson thinks [about it and writes his sermon] & take[s it to] the 12, to fix the items[,] then get the thing right & read it to the people & say that [it is an update of his] last [sermon, and he should say] I could not speak it [extemporaneously as well as] I have written it.”
Seconding Young’s comments, John Taylor said that he “finds it easier to get out of the path than to get into it. I heard Bro. Orson & thought in somethings he meant right. It is important for the 12 to teach correct doctrine & it is for Prest. Y to see that we get [it] right.”
“It’s not the matter [of what] Bro. Orson has at heart[,] it’s the manner,” Young clarified.
“I said to a man,” offered Hyde, “[W]hat would you give to know the truth[?] I would not yield to the truth. I told him the truth trammeled [and was] no good. [Now] I feel as though the truth would make us free.”
“[Where there is a] difference in opinion & judgment,” Young concluded, “their [the apostles’] judgement should be left at rest until the truth forms that judgement. [A]ny judgement [should] not [be] framed out [until it can] be framed by the prin[ciples] of eternal truth. Bro. Orson Pratt, should say I have no judgement upon the matter, or should have had none. Bro O. Pratt,” Young asked, turning to Pratt, “what do you think about it?” (Conflict in the Quorum, pg. 179-180)
It would seem that the major contention between this account and Collier’s is over the phrase “thus saith the Lord.” This one example proves an excellent case study in the ramifications of restricted yet limitedly circulated materials that are profoundly germane to our historical narrative. While there are others, to be sure, we can have the hope that in proving contraries, the truth will be manifest.
- Instead of brackets for editorial punctuation, Collier used boldface type. Where he thought a sentence ended but no capital letter followed, he inserted a bold dash. For purposes of comparison, I have either removed added punctuation (e.g., dont from don‘t) or bracketed it (as in the case of the emphasized dashes).